UPDATED:China has a new satellite image of a large floating object in the Indian Ocean that could be related to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced the news on Saturday evening during a routine press briefing when handed a note by an aide.
“The news that I just received is that the Chinese ambassador received satellite images of floating objects in the southern corridor and they will be sending ships to verify,” Hishammuddin said.
In a later press statement, the transport ministry clarified that there was one “suspected” object with an estimated size of 22.5m by 13m.
Hishammuddin had provided different dimensions which the statement said was the result of a telephone miscommunication.
Chinese state television later released a copy of the undated, grainy satellite image.
Attached co-ordinates suggest it is in roughly the same area of remote ocean as two possible objects spotted on satellite images taken March 16 and released by the Australian government on Thursday.
China's Xinhua news agency said the object was spotted 120km from those spotted by Australia. It is understood the image was captured four days ago.
Navy ships are tonight being directed to the area.
The news came as Australian rescuers stepped up the search for Malaysian Flight MH370 as pressure mounted to find the missing plane that vanished two weeks ago and has defied the best efforts of modern technology to track it down.
Six planes, including four Orion anti-submarine aircraft packed with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, joined the search for debris from the aircraft over a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) southwest of Perth.
They spend a third day scouring vast areas of the Indian Ocean without finding any trace of debris.
Chinese air force planes have landed in Perth and are due to join the international search effort tomorrow before the window of good weather closes.
British, Chinese and Australian naval ships were all steaming to the same area where two floating objects - possibly plane wreckage - were picked out on grainy satellite pictures.
With planes from Japan also expected to join the hunt, the sudden concentration of resources on the basis of such inconclusive evidence reflects growing desperation after 14 days of piecemeal progress.
There have been no sightings of interest since Thursday, when Australia released the satellite photos taken on March 16.
Some experts warn the larger of the two objects - measuring an estimated 24m (79 feet) across - could be a shipping container, while Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss cautioned that any possible debris may have sunk.
"Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating. It may have slipped to the bottom," he said.
After Australian and Malaysian officials hailed the satellite images as the most "credible" lead to date, failure to find anything soon will be a body blow to a search operation already tainted by false leads and dead ends.
The strain is taking a toll on relatives, who angrily confronted officials at a briefing in Beijing today.
Police were forced to intervene as relatives of Chinese passengers aboard vanished flight rushed towards Malaysian officials at a Beijing hotel, demanding answers over the fate of their loved ones.
The confrontation at the Lido Hotel came as the search for the missing jet entered its third week, with many clinging to the hope that family members might still be alive and alleging Malaysian involvement in a cover-up.
A total of 153 Chinese were on board the Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that disappeared from civilian radar screens on March 8, nearly an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur. The plane was carrying 239 passengers and crew.
“Government of Malaysia, tell us the truth! Give us back our loved ones!” shouted audience members at Saturday's briefing at the hotel attended by government officials.
Adding to mystery, the final communications within the cockpit of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have reportedly been revealed.
A transcript of the last 54 minutes of conversations between the co-pilot, the control tower and other air traffic authorities, includes a point at which investigators believe the plane was sabotaged, according to London's The Telegraph.
Experts said the messages and conversation appeared "perfectly routine" but pointed out that two features were potentially odd.
A message from the cockpit at 1.07am told authorities that the plane was flying at 35,000ft.
This raised some eyebrows because it repeated a message delivered only six minutes earlier.
Adding to the suspicion of crew intervention, it happened just moments before the plane's ACARS signalling device sent its final message before being disabled.
It also appears that the loss of communication and subsequent change of MH370's direction occurred at the point where the air traffic control in Kuala Lumpur was to handover to air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh City.
"If I was going to steal the aeroplane, that would be the point I would do it," said Stephen Buzdygan, a former British Airways pilot.
"There might be a bit of dead space between the air traffic controllers.
"It was the only time during the flight they would maybe not have been able to be seen from the ground."
The development was reported in London's Telegraph, which claimed to have received no confirmation from authorities.
Fine weather should aid the search off the West Australian coast for missing flight MH370, which resumed at first light today.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said 10 State Emergency Services volunteers from WA had been tasked as air observers on the commercial jets involved in today's search of a 36,000sqkm area about 2500km south-west of Perth.
Spotter planes on Friday spent a second fruitless day scouring a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, where possible wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines plane had been identified by satellite.
AMSA is leading the search and says it is still being treated as a rescue operation, two weeks after the jet disappeared.
Two ultra-long-range commercial jets and an RAAF P3 Orion were the first aircraft to set off for the search zone when they left Perth about 6am (WST).
The Orion will be able to search for two hours, while the commercial jets have five hours of search time.
The first of three Chinese aircraft - Ilyushin IL-76 - landed in Perth this afternoon.
The bad weather that hampered search operations on Thursday has cleared.
"The area will have pretty much light surface winds, generally less than about 10 knots," Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Luke Huntington told ABC radio.
"We're not expecting any significant weather.
"Visibility should be greatly improved."
Two merchant ships are assisting in the search area and the Royal Australian Navy's HMAS Success is due to arrive at the search area this afternoon.
Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya confirmed that the aircraft had been carrying lithium ion batteries in its cargo hold, but dismissed suggestions that they might have been the source of a fire that caused the plane to crash.
"These are not regarded as dangerous goods ... and were packed as recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation," he said.
There is a reasonable chance of finding something in the Indian Ocean in the search for the missing plane, Royal Australian Air Force group captain Craig Heap said today.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss, in Perth today, said the Australian search effort had so far covered about 500,000sqkm.
There had been no finds of note since some large debris was defined last week, he told a large international media contingent at the RAAF Pearce air base.
Mr Truss said there had already been 15 sorties from the base, mainly Australian and New Zealand Orion aircraft.
US and civilian aircraft are also involved, and will be joined by Chinese aircraft that arrive in Perth this afternoon to begin searching on Sunday.
Japanese aircraft will take part on Monday, and several vessels from around the world are en route to WA to help.
HMAS Success is also expected to reach the search area later on Saturday.
"This search is an intensive operation," Mr Truss said.
"While these aircraft are equipped with very advanced technology, much of this search is actually visual."
Mr Truss said the search for debris would keep going as long as there was hope.
“It is important from the perspective of those who have families, whose whereabouts are unknown ... and indeed for the future of the aviation industry, that we do whatever we can to firstly confirm whether or not the sightings as a result of the satellite imagery are indeed connected in any way with the Malaysia Airlines flight,” he said.
“And then if so, what can be recovered so we can learn more about what has happened on this flight and learn any lessons that are necessary to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Mr Truss said the debris was the most promising lead so far and he was confident it could be found.
“There’s a reasonable chance of finding something,” Capt. Heap said.
Capt. Heap said no aircraft or vessels had been sent from Malaysia to help with the Indian Ocean search, but it had sent military personnel to Pearce to act as liaison officers.
“They have other search areas where they are concentrating their efforts, in their own waters and nearby,” Mr Truss said.
He said contact was being made with Malaysian authorities every few hours.
Mr Truss said two longer-range aircraft being deployed this weekend had intercontinental capability and would be able to comb the search area for five hours at a time, compared to the 2-3 hours that military aircraft had been able to achieve over the past two days.
The search area had been adjusted to account for drift, he said.
Weather conditions were much improved and would be for the foreseeable future.
“If there’s something there to be found, I’m confident that this search effort will locate it,” Mr Truss said.
And Australian authorities would do its utmost to keep the public informed.
“These families ... they’re anxious for information,” Mr Truss said.
Malaysia has asked the US to provide undersea surveillance technology to help in the search for the wreckage of the missing airliner.
The request came as a near two-week search failed to find any debris from the Boeing 777 that disappeared off the radar after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, Pentagon officials said on Friday.
In a phone call to Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, Malaysia's defence minister and acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein "requested that the US consider providing some undersea surveillance equipment", Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.
Mr Hagel assured his counterpart that he would "assess the availability and utility of military undersea technology for such a task and provide him an update in the very near future", Rear Admiral Kirby said.
Officials did not say what equipment the Pentagon might provide but the US military has invested heavily in robotic technology designed for undersea surveillance against enemy submarines or torpedoes.
The Malaysian minister thanked Mr Hagel for the US Navy's help in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared with 239 passengers and crew in an unprecedented aviation mystery.
Two US Navy maritime surveillance planes, a P-3 Orion and P-8 Poseidon, have been taking part in the search.
The P-8 has flown with three Australian air force P-3 Orions in a search of the southern Indian Ocean, in a region 2500km south-west of Perth, while the P-3 - which had been combing an area in the Bay of Bengal - is due to join the search in the southern zone, officials said.
"This is going to be a long haul," Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a daily press briefing in Kuala Lumpur.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who first revealed the satellite images in parliament, defended himself on Friday against suggestions he may have "jumped the gun".
"We owe it to the families and the friends and the loved ones ... to give them information as soon as it's to hand," he said.
Mr Abbott said he had spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he described as "devastated" by the disappearance of MH370 and the 153 Chinese nationals on board.
The nature of the events that diverted MH370 from its intended flight path on March 8 remain shrouded in mystery, although Malaysian investigators have stuck to their assumption that it was the result of a "deliberate action" by someone on board.
Three scenarios have gained particular attention: hijacking, pilot sabotage, and a sudden mid-air crisis that incapacitated the flight crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot for several hours until it ran out of fuel and crashed.
If the objects in the remote southern Indian Ocean are shown to have come from MH370, some analysts believe the hijacking theory will lose ground.
"The reasonable motives for forcing the plane to fly there are very, very few," Gerry Soejatman, a Jakarta-based independent aviation analyst, told AFP.
Sarah Bajc, the partner of American passenger Philip Wood, said she had clung to the notion of a hijacking plot that might result in the passengers' eventual safe return.
"So if this debris is indeed part of that plane, then it kind of dashes that wishful thinking to pieces," Ms Bajc told CNN.
The often storm-swept area is far from recognised shipping lanes and the satellite images were taken on March 16, meaning the objects would have been drifting for days in a volatile maritime region.
"It's really off the beaten track," said Tim Huxley, chief executive of Wah Kwong Maritime Transport Holdings in Hong Kong.
"It's a lonely, lonely place."
If debris is found, the mammoth task remains of locating the black box flight data recorder, which offers the best chance of peeling back the layers of confusion and mystery surrounding MH370.
There has been little progress in what essentially became a criminal investigation after it was determined that the disappearance of the plane was probably deliberate.
Malaysia has asked the FBI to help recover data it said was deleted from a home flight simulator belonging to the plane's chief pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, but otherwise no evidence has emerged to implicate him.